A commitment, a challenge, and an invitation

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany 

Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. Matthew 4:12-23, Psalm 27:1, 5-13

 No two weeks are ever the same. This week came to an abrupt diversion when my lap top came to an abrupt slow down. So Thursday afternoon till deep in the night and all day Friday were given over to: the evaluation of the problem, the determination of the best solution, the necessary purchases, the journey home, the process of moving 3 computers to different tasks. And I am not so up to date as I was 23 years ago and the road less traveled is not the path to follow in this particular case. However, as dark fell Friday  I was functionally done with the task, as well as functionally done with all things e-stuff, and took advantage of Friday Families, where we (I think there were 19 folks present at some point in the evening) enjoyed pizza, each other’s company and Earnest Goes to Camp. As the night came to a close someone quipped Earnest Goes to Camp doesn’t have the same theological depth as The Rise of the Guardians. They are right, Earnest isn’t a preaching point. Still it is Sunday; it is the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany; we still need to make sense of today’s scripture readings; just how does Isaiah relate to Matthew, and Matthew to Paul, especially when it all begins in Judges with Gideon if not in Genesis with light. After all it is Epiphany the season of light; but on the first day it isn’t the sun and moon and stars, in Genesis 1:3 it’s just light, light that comes into the formless void, and darkness, light that comes with the wind, or spirit, from God. It’s in verse 14, on the 4th day, that the sun, moon, and stars show up. [i] It’s enlightening to recall it all begins with the presence of God.

Matthew has been telling the tale of a new, a different presence of God, by referring to back to God’s presence, as revealed by Isaiah, who refers back to a previous revelation of God’s presence in Judges        and Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites. [ii]  Two verses later, which we did not hear this morning, Isaiah’s prophecy notes this light will be a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace … words that are similar to Egyptian coronation rites indicating Pharaoh’s divine nature, [iii] implying the servant’s divine nature.

As soon as Jesus gets to Galilee he begins to preach the same message John the Baptist did The Kingdom of heaven has come near. As did John’s this notes the Kingdom’s presence in Jerusalem and Judah, to the Jews; but ~ Jesus’ presence in Galilee reveals the Kingdom’s presence to people beyond Jerusalem and Judah beyond Jews. [iv] The very next thing he does is to start calling disciples. He says: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (KJV) trying to be gender inclusive the NSRV translates it Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

I agree with my colleague, who doesn’t like the NSRV; it just doesn’t ring the same. I agree more with David Lose whose interest isn’t gender inclusion (although he isn’t adverse to inclusiveness) but the implications of prepositions. The phrase: fish for people puts the emphasis on the task – fishing. The phrase: fishers of men puts the emphasis on their identity thus Jesus is calling the disciples into relationship. [v] And this relationship with Jesus … completely disrupts the priorities and social and economic obligations of two households… [vi]  with more to come. The disruption comes from the disciples immediately following Jesus; Peter and Andrew abandon the tools of their trade, James and John abandon their boat and their father and family. [vii] It sounds similar to Joseph, a willingness to set aside tradition, to set aside the law, in order to follow the divine presence, in order to be in the presence of the Kingdom.

This is a chronological mess, however, if we snap the fabric of Matthew’s story and all its implications, we see: the beginning is in the presence of God, it breaks with the threat of the Midianites which God through Gideon restores; it breaks with a dispute between Ephraim and Judah allowing the Assyrians to conquer the land; [viii] which Isaiah’s prophecy reveals God will restore; it breaks with Roman occupation, and much more before and since, and Matthew is telling a story of God’s redeeming work through the nearness, of the Kingdom in the presence of Jesus.  At every point in the story God’s presence is redemptive. And when people get away from God’s presence it breaks. That’s Paul’s point to the Corinthians; it doesn’t matter what gifts are greater, it’s all about unity in Christ [ix]  his way of pointing to the presence of the Kingdom.

Beyond the interlocking redemptive relationship references in Matthew, there is also a process gleaning. Jesus calls the disciples into relationship with him, with each other, so later they can call others into relationship with them. [x] Today it works the other way around, we are here, in church, in Christ’s community with each other, ~ so we can invite others into relationship with us, so they can come into relationship with Jesus.

I believe we have the beginnings of all that. So here’s a commitment, a challenge, and an invitation: I am committing to take communion to anyone who otherwise will not know that presence of God in Jesus. I know of four, if you know someone, call me. Here’s the challenge, actually two: if you know someone who used to be a part of St. Stephen’s welcome them home with an invitation to tryout our new worship time; and second – if you don’t participate in Friday Families you’re invited to come and see, and invite a neighbor, yours, or one from around the church. And the invitation: all of you are invited to Angie’s house for a Super Bowl party next Sunday at 5:00 pm, invitations are on the way, bring your favorite finger food, beverage of your choice, and yes invite a friend.

And all of it, from Guardians to Earnest, from computer to communion from invitations to community of all sorts all of it is about being in the presence of the Kingdom that’s coming nearer and nearer to thee; is about sharing the presence of the Kingdom that’s coming nearer and nearer.


James Orr, M.A., D.D., General Editor, Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp., the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
[ii] Walter Harrelson, New Interpreters’’ Study Bible, Isaiah 9:1ff 
[iii] ibid
[iv] Scott Hoezee, cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next Sunday is January 26, 2014 (Ordinary Time) The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 4:12-23 
[v]David Lose WorkingPreacher.org,  Craft of Preaching, Fishers of People,Monday, January 20, 2014
[vi] Harrleson, Matthew 4:12ff
[vii] Judith Jones, WorkingPreacher.org, Commentary on Matthew 4:12-23
[viii] Christopher R. Seit ,Interpretation – Isaiah A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor David Petersen and Beverly Gave Gaventa, New Interrupters Bible One Volume Commentary,
ix Stan Mast cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching Next Sunday is January 26, 2014 1 Corinthians 1:10-18
[x] Lose

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